Pandora’s Cluster, also known as Abell 2744, is a giant galaxy located about 4 billion light-years from Earth in the constellation Sculptor. Previously, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope had studied Pandora’s central core in detail.

Now NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope offers never-before-seen detail in a region of space known as Pandora’s Cluster. According to Webb, we see three existing massive clusters of galaxies merging into a megacluster.

Acting like a natural magnifying glass, the combined mass of the galaxy clusters produces a strong gravitational lens that makes it possible to detect much more distant galaxies in the early universe. The previously unknown view of Pandora’s Cluster combines four Webb images into one panoramic image showing nearly 50,000 sources of near-infrared light.

Astronomer Rachel Bezanson of the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania said: “The ancient myth of Pandora is about human curiosity and discoveries that delineate the past from the future, which I think is a fitting connection to the new realms of the universe. Webb opens up, including this deep-field image of Pandora’s Cluster.

“When the images of Pandora’s Cluster first came in from Webb, we were a little underwhelmed. There was so much detail in the foreground cluster and so many distant lens galaxies. I found myself getting lost in the image. Webb exceeded our expectations.”

Astronomer Ivo Labbe of Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, co-principal investigator of the UNCOVER program, said that “In the lower right lens core of the Webb image, which Hubble never imaged, Webb revealed hundreds of distant lens systems that appear as faint curved lines in the image. As you zoom in on the region, you see more and more.”

“Pandora’s Cluster, as depicted by Webb, shows us a stronger, wider, deeper, better lens than we’ve ever seen before. My first reaction to the image was that it was so beautiful; it looked like a simulation of galaxy formation. We had to remind ourselves that this was real data and that we are now working in a new era of astronomy.

The Cluster was observed by the UNCOVER team with Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) over the course of approximately 30 hours of viewing time, with exposures of 4-6 hours each.

The next step is to carefully review the imaging data and select galaxies for follow-up observation with the Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec), which will provide accurate distance measurements along with other comprehensive information about the composition of the lens galaxies, yielding new insights . in the early stage of galaxy assembly and evolution.